RoboThespian: fascinating interaction

Article of 24 March 2016 

The humanoid robot, RoboThespian, works with pneumatic muscles developed by Festo.

Whether at Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida or in the phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg: visitors like to converse with the humanoid robot, RoboThespian. It approaches them directly – and does so with movements that appear quite natural. The latest technology from Festo makes this possible: the fluidic muscle and piezo valves. The 1.75 metre tall humanoid weighing 33 kilograms was developed by Engineered Arts Limited in the English town of Penryn in Cornwall.

The humanoid robot, RoboThespian, works with pneumatic muscles developed by Festo.

Depending on the programming and technical equipment, the RoboThespian can actively converse with its opposite number. Its name is also indicative of this: “Thespian” is an old English term for an actor. The clever robot speaks several languages and recognises faces and gestures.

If you say certain key words, it starts with previously defined reactions. For exact answers and information, it can also make use of search engines and access information from the Internet independently. If it is controlled by people by means of a wireless headset and tablet, it even addresses visitors individually. In the meantime, there are more than 60 of these robots worldwide, which mainly delight people in museums, universities or permanent exhibitions.

Natural movement using artificial muscles

Much of its human-like agility relies on the pneumatic fluidic muscle developed by Festo. They are a membrane-contraction system, a flexible hose with so-called multifilament yarns as reinforcement supports, which are integrated in a diamond-shaped structure. The system acts like a human muscle, contracting and relaxing – and all without frictional resistance or breakaway torque, in other words stick-slip free. The movement of the arms and hands is taken on by a total of two or eight fluidic muscles respectively in different sizes.

The humanoid robot, RoboThespian, works with pneumatic muscles developed by Festo.

Precise control system using piezo technology

The artificial muscles are controlled among other things by VEAB piezo valves developed by Festo. Particularly on applications for regulating flow and pressure, and also as directly controlled proportional valves, they offer numerous benefits compared to conventional solenoid valves: they can be made particularly small, are lightweight, highly precise, very long-lasting, switch extremely quickly and require up to 50 per cent less energy. Furthermore, they generate virtually no waste heat and work almost without noise.

Ambassador for Industry 4.0

RoboThespian is a fascinating example of human-machine communication. It embodies the future potential of Industry 4.0 in impressive fashion: humans create and program the machine, which then reacts largely autonomously and flexibly to its surroundings.